Erasmus Policy Statements

Objectives for mobility in the Nordic Erasmus Policy Statements

Irma Garam, CIMO (Finland)

Erasmus Policy Statement in Erasmus Charter for Higher Education

Internationalisation has become an important strategic issue in higher education institutions in the Nordic countries and elsewhere in Europe. Many institutions have defined internationalisation as a priority in their strategies, resources are allocated to internationalisation, and infrastructures for international activities have been developed in the institutions. Most higher education institutions in the Nordic countries have an internationalisation strategy – either as a separate strategy document or integrated in the institution's overall strategic plan – defining the main objectives and plans for their international activities.

Erasmus Charter for Higher Education (ECHE) is a document all European higher education institutions have to deliver in order to participate in the Erasmus+ programme. One part of the ECHE document is the Erasmus Policy Statement in which institutions are asked to explain their overall international strategy. This is asked with the following instructions:

Please describe your institution's international (EU and non-EU) strategy. In your description please explain a) how you choose your partners, b) in which geographical area(s) and c) the most important objectives and target groups of your mobility activities (with regard to staff and students in first, second and third cycles, including study and training, and short cycles). If applicable, also explain how your institution participates in the development of double/multiple/joint degrees. (max. 5000 characters)

Institutions write the Erasmus Policy Statement for a particular audience (for the funding organisation) with a particular purpose (being able to participate in the programme and receive funding). Therefore, Erasmus Policy Statements should not be read as being identical to an institution's internationalisation strategy, nor should they be read as a description of objectives regarding internationalisation and its implementation in an institution. However, Erasmus Policy Statements give us information on the issues and priorities that institutions find relevant in their internationalisation process.

Aim of this paper and analysis

This paper looks at the Erasmus Policy Statements in the Nordic ECHE documents and more precisely a part of the Erasmus Policy Statement, that is, descriptions of the most important objectives of mobility activities. We ask what the most important objectives of mobility for Nordic higher education institutions are. Comparisons are made between Denmark, Sweden and Finland. This makes it possible to examine if the objectives differ between the countries.

For the analysis, a total of 40 Finnish, 21 Swedish and 16 Danish Erasmus Policy Statements were read. This included all Erasmus Policy Statements from Finland and samples from Sweden and Denmark. The samples consisted of institutions with the biggest student populations, covering 90 percent of the total student population in the countries.

This paper discusses first how the Erasmus Policy Statements are structured by institutions. Then we look more closely into the objectives for mobility.

Structure of the Erasmus Policy Statement

For the Erasmus Policy Statement (EPS) institutions are asked to describe their overall international strategy and to explain four issues in more detail in their description: a) how they choose their partners, b) in which geographical areas and c) the most important objectives and target groups of their mobility activities. In addition, institutions are asked to explain their policy for participating in development of double/multiple/joint degrees.

The instructions with multiple questions have led institutions to structure their Erasmus Policy Statements in different ways. Some institutions answer the separate questions only. This way of structuring the EPS is more common among the Finnish ECHE documents than in the other two countries.

Some institutions focus more on describing their overall strategy with the questions (somehow) integrated in the description. This way of structuring the EPS is especially common among the Swedish ECHE documents. The Danish ECHE documents are somewhere in the middle.

One consequence of this is that it makes comparison difficult. Institutions describe different things in their Erasmus Policy Statements. Some concentrate on explaining their overall aims for internationalisation while others focus on explaining their partner selection process and initiatives for developing mobility.

The most important objectives for mobility activities – student mobility

The word “objective” is understood in two ways in the Erasmus Policy Statements. Some institutions explain concrete initiatives or ways of developing mobility activities whereas some institutions describe overall rationales or reasons for mobility. These differences make comparison challenging. The emphasis here is in the first case: how the institutions aim to develop their mobility activities.

Further distinction is made between objectives given for international student mobility (or mobility in general) and objectives given for teacher or staff mobility in particular.

The main objectives for student mobility are gathered in the table below.

  Denmark Sweden Finland
  % number % number % number
Increasing mobility numbers or quantitative objectives (1) 50 8 76 16 35 14
Curriculum development (2) 50 8 43 9 38 15
Providing different types of mobility (3) 38 6 38 8 18 7
Enhancing quality (4) 31 5 5 1 28 11
Improving recognition (5) 25 4 14 3 35 14
Promoting mobility (6) 19 3 24 5 10 4
Support services (7) 19 3 10 2 30 12
Guidance  for students (8) 19 3 - - 8 3
Equal opportunities for mobility (9) 13 2 24 5 20 8
Balance between incoming and outgoing mobility (10) 13 2 10 2 20 8
Funding (11) - - 14 3 15 6
Administration (12) - - 14 3 3 1
Integrating incoming students (13) 6 1 5 1 8 3

The most important objectives for student mobility:

  1. Includes quantitative or numerical objectives: e.g. increasing mobility numbers, maintaining present numbers or certain percentage of students going abroad.
  2. Objectives referring to changes or developments in curriculum: e.g. integrating a mobility period into the study programme, developing a mobility window, or ensuring flexibility in curriculum for mobility periods, or developing English tuition for incoming students.
  3. Objectives referring to expanding the variety of mobility activities: e.g. encouraging students to do traineeships, or developing short-term mobility opportunities.
  4. Objectives referring to enhancing or paying attention to the quality of mobility without further clarification on how the quality will be attained.
  5. Objectives referring to improving the recognition (process) of studies taken abroad.
  6. Objectives referring to better marketing, promotion or visibility of mobility opportunities.
  7. Objectives referring to developing or providing better services for outgoing or incoming students. Includes both statements on developing student services in general (without further clarification on how and what services) and statements on developing a particular service e.g. providing language preparation for outgoing students, or accommodation for incoming students.
  8. Objectives referring to guidance and student counselling: e.g. helping students to plan their mobility period, or providing more individual paths for studies abroad.
  9. Objectives referring to ensuring equal opportunities for mobility for all students or taking special care of the more disadvantaged student groups. Cases in which institutions simply describe provision of mobility opportunities for all students are not included here.
  10. Objectives referring to maintaining or achieving a balance between incoming and outgoing mobility flows.
  11. Objectives referring to ensuring or increasing funding for mobility, or using different funding sources.
  12. Objectives referring to developing the overall administration to support mobility.
  13. Objectives referring to integrating incoming students better into the campus, or in the local student community or into the study programme.

Numbers matter. In all three countries and especially in the Swedish institutions, the quantitative objectives for student mobility were the most important ones and most frequently given. In most cases, the objective is simply to increase the mobility numbers. But there are also institutions that aim to maintain the present numbers or to have e.g. 20% of the student population mobile. The importance of quantitative objectives in understandable since mobility numbers are still the main way of monitoring international mobility at the national level in many countries, and at the European level.

The idea that developing student mobility is a question of developing curriculum is also relative widely recognised among the Danish, Swedish and Finnish institutions according to the Erasmus Policy Statements. Several institutions express the need to develop curriculum to better support international student mobility. This may mean developing English tuition for incoming students, or finding space for a mobility period for outgoing students.

Developing or paying attention to different types of mobility options is a third objective relatively frequently given by institutions in all three countries. In many EPS documents this refers to making traineeship opportunities more attractive and more easily available. Some institutions also aim to develop shorter mobility options. The underlying idea here is, however, that institutions wish to offer students a variety of options in addition to the “traditional three-month student exchange”.

There are also differences between the three countries in the Erasmus Policy Statements. Danish and Finnish institutions state the quality of mobility as an objective more often than Swedish institutions. In these cases the institutions do not explain what they mean by quality and how they aim to achieve it. Improving recognition of and developing support services for mobility are objectives that are mentioned by Finnish institutions more frequently than by institutions in the other two countries, especially in Sweden. Similar differences in students' experiences of getting guidance and encouragement for mobility were found in a comparative survey on students in Sweden, Norway and Finland [1]: Finnish students reported receiving more encouragement for going abroad and guidance from international coordinators than Swedish students.  Guidance for students is more often mentioned in the Danish Erasmus Policy Statements, equal opportunities for mobility in the Swedish and Finnish Erasmus Policy Statements.

Erasmus Policy Statements also included some additional objectives for student mobility given only by few institutions:

Improving students' language skills
Developing alumni activities
Involving enterprises in mobility
Increasing the number of partnerships

Evaluating mobility
Creating synergy between mobility and cooperation activities

Developing  bilateral agreements
Including employers in activities

Promoting internationalisation at home
Involving teachers better in student mobility

The most important objectives for mobility activities – teacher/staff mobility

Overall, the Erasmus Policy Statements discussed student mobility (or mobility in general without defining the target group) more than teacher or staff mobility. It was relatively common in the statements to see teacher mobility as a tool for enhancing and developing something else, e.g. student mobility, partnerships, or internationalisation at home. The table below gathers the main objectives when talking about developing teacher/staff mobility in particular.

  Denmark Sweden Finland
  % number % number % number
Increasing mobility numbers or quantitative objectives (1) 38 6 48 10 18 7
Improving recognition (2) 25 4 10 2 10 4
Support services (3) 6 1 - - 20 8
Integration of teacher/staff mobility (4) 6 1 5 1 25 10
Providing different types of mobility (5) 6 1 - - 8 3
Funding (6) 6 1 5 1 - -
Developing cooperation with enterprises (7) - - 5 1 10 4

The most important objectives for teacher/staff mobility

  1. Quantitative or numerical objectives: e.g. increasing mobility numbers or maintaining present numbers.
  2. Objectives referring to developing the ways in which teacher/staff mobility periods can be recognised. e.g. taking mobility into account when recruiting staff, or rewarding staff for participating in mobility.
  3. Objectives referring to developing support services for incoming or outgoing staff.
  4. Objectives referring to making teacher/staff mobility more systematic and integrating teacher/staff mobility better into curriculum or the institution's strategy, or other developmental work.
  5. Objectives referring to expanding the variety of mobility activities: e.g. company visits.
  6. Objectives referring to ensuring or increasing the funding for teacher/staff mobility.
  7. Objectives referring to developing business cooperation.

Numbers matter in teacher/staff mobility, too. Numerical targets or increasing mobility numbers is the most common objective in all three countries. Another issue shared by all countries, at least to some extent, is developing ways of recognising the mobility periods of teachers and staff. How to better take them into account and utilise them? In addition, Finnish institutions express their interest in developing support services for mobile teachers/staff and making teacher/staff mobility more strategic and systematic by integrating it better into the strategic priority areas, curricula or annual work plans.

Erasmus Policy Statements also included some additional objectives for teacher/staff mobility given by only a few institutions:

Denmark Sweden Finland
staff competence building providing equal opportunities enhancing quality
sabbatical system for staff/teachers developing international recruitment  
  developing infrastructure  

Concluding remarks

Erasmus Policy Statements are challenging material for making comparisons because the Erasmus charter gives room for different formulations and approaches. Some institutions describe their international strategy more loosely, some answer the questions more strictly. There are also differing national tendencies in the way EPSs are described even though the countries examined here didn't provide any national instructions for institutions on how to structure this part of the application. If comparable information is wanted, questions should be more unambiguous in the future.

Institutions have, however, put a lot of effort into filling in the application, and the Erasmus Policy Statements contain interesting information on institutions' priorities and views on internationalisation and mobility. As the data exists, it should be offered to researchers, and thematic analyses covering several participating countries should be encouraged.  

Analyses on the most important objectives on student and staff mobility showed that numerical targets still dominate the discussion on developing international mobility. This reflects the strong focus on increasing mobility numbers in the programme as well as the focus on numbers in national and European policies. But focusing on “how many” may leave other important aspects of international mobility like “who”, “what”, “how” and “why” without enough attention. There is a need to put more emphasis on the qualitative aspects and evaluation of international mobility and to concentrate more on the experiences and outcomes of mobility.

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